Home Page

 Msgr Calkins Home Page

 United Hearts of Jesus and Mary Home Page

 "Why the Heart?"

  by  Monsignor Arthur B. Calkins

           Shortly before the visit of Pope John Paul II to France in October of 1986 an excellent article appeared in a Belgian Jesuit theological review entitled "John Paul II at Paray-le-Monial or why the 'Heart'?" [1]  It is a question which many of the faithful may ask with regard to devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary:  Why the Heart?  Jesus as King and Lord of the Universe yes!  Mary as our Mother and Queen yes!  But why their Hearts?  Isn't such an emphasis outdated, passé?

            Now I willingly grant that there have been and are a great many saccharine and maudlin "objects of art" (unfortunately, probably the bulk of them!) depicting the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary and innumerable "gushy" and sentimental hymns written in their honor (One need only think of "To Jesus' Heart All Burning" in the old Saint Basil's Hymnal in this regard).  But obviously even abuse cannot negate legitimate use and the official magisterium of the Church continues to propose devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary to the faithful with no hesitation or apologies.

             While there are many legitimate ways of responding to the query "Why the Heart?" (e.g. the history of spirituality and private revelations), I will do so from the perspective of the papal magisterium, specifically that of Pope John Paul II who shows himself to be particularly sensitive to the preoccupations and questions of our day.  For instance, in 1985 Pope John Paul II gave 12 Angelus addresses on the Sacred Heart of Jesus [2] culminating in a marvelous exhortation inviting us to unite with the "admirable alliance" of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.[3]  In 1986 he dedicated the same number of Angelus messages to this theme [4] and personally presented a letter to the Superior General of the Jesuits at Paray-le-Monial, site of the apparitions of the Lord to Saint Margaret Mary, encouraging the Jesuits to continue promoting this devotion whose

"essential elements" he said "belong in a permanent fashion to the spirituality of the Church throughout her history; for since the beginning, the Church has looked to the Heart of Christ pierced on the Cross, from which blood and water flowed forth as symbols of the sacraments that constitute the Church; and, in the Heart of the Incarnate Word, the Fathers of the Christian East and West saw the beginning of all the work of our salvation, fruit of the love of the divine Redeemer.  This pierced Heart is a particularly expressive symbol of that love". [5]

And categorically I can say without a moment's hesitation that he has spoken more frequently of the Heart of Mary than all of his predecessors combined.  (On this topic alone I have amassed well over 150 pages of references in the magisterium of Pope John Paul II.)

            Now again to the question:  Why the Heart?  In virtually every culture heart means much more than the physical organ which is considered the pre-eminent "vital sign" and which pumps blood through the body; it implies love, affectivity, attitudes, feelings, emotions, courage.  It speaks of one's interior, of one's inmost being.  Here is how a contemporary German author testifies to the popular use of the word herz in his language (and one readily notes how parallel the usage is in English):

            We give "hearty" greetings and "hearty" welcomes.  I speak "from the bottom of my heart", and we speak of "brave", "good" and "true hearts".  I may do something "with all my heart"; I have something on my "heart"; we "pour out our hearts"; we "take something to heart"; we "set our heart on" something; we know "heartbreak"; we say that someone "wins another's heart", "loses" or "gives" his heart; we "take heart", "take our heart in our hands", "wear our heart on our sleeves".  Something "goes to our heart"; we are "heartily" sorry; indeed, our heart "bleeds" for someone.  We go through life with a "heavy" or "light heart", a "merry" or "sad heart".  This by no means exhaustive catalogue shows that our language is certainly not so heartless.  Nor has the symbol of the heart lost any of its expressive power.  Tests may have shown that traffic signs can be ambiguous, but every child knows what a heart carved on a tree means. [6]

            Here popular usage testifies to what the Pope refers to as "the richness of anthropological resonance . . . which the word 'heart' awakens."  He says:

            This word evokes not only sentiments proper to the affective sphere, but also all those memories, thoughts, reasonings, plans, that make up man's innermost world.  The heart in biblical culture, and also in a large part of other cultures, is that essential center of the personality in which man stands before God as the totality of body and soul, as I who am thinking, willing and loving, as the center in which the memory of the past opens up to the planning of the future.

            Certainly, the human heart that interests the anatomist, the physiologist, the cardiologist, the surgeon, etc., and their scientific contribution -- I am happy to acknowledge in such a place as this -- takes on great importance for the serene and harmonious development of man in the course of his earthly existence.  But the significance, according to which we now refer to the heart, transcends these partial considerations to reach the sanctuary of personal self-awareness in which is summarized and, so to speak, condensed the concrete essence of man, the center in which the individual decides on himself in the face of others, the world, and God himself.

            Only of man can it be properly said that he has a heart.  It cannot be said, obviously, of a pure spirit, nor even of an animal.  The redire ad cor (`returning to the heart') from the scattering of multiple external experiences is a possibility reserved uniquely to man. [7]

            From our own often unreflective use of language and from "the Pope's theology of the heart" [8], we may begin to perceive the significance of the fact that the Word of God became man in the womb of the Virgin Mary and

            from that moment God began to love with a human heart, a true heart capable of beating in an intense, tender and impassioned way.  The Heart of Jesus has truly experienced feelings of joy before the splendor of nature, the candor of children, the glance of a pure young man; feelings of friendship toward the Apostles, Lazarus, the disciples; feelings of compassion for the sick, the poor, the many persons tried by struggle, by loneliness, by sin, feelings of anguish before the prospect of suffering and the mystery of death.  There is no authentically human feeling that the Heart of Jesus did not experience. . . .

            Of the infinite power that is proper to God, the Heart of Christ kept only the defenceless power of the love that forgives.  And in the radical loneliness of the cross, he accepted being pierced by the centurion's lance so that from the open wound there might pour out upon the world's ugly deeds the inexhaustible torrent of a mercy that washes, purifies and renews.

            In the Heart of Christ, therefore, there meet divine richness and human poverty, the power of grace and the frailty of nature, an appeal from God and a response from man.  In the Heart of Christ the history of mankind has its definitive place of arrival, because `the Father has assigned all judgment to the Son' (Jn. 5:22).  Therefore, willing or not, every human heart must refer to the Heart of Christ. [9]

            Very significantly in the pages of the Gospels the word "heart" is used of only two individual persons:  Jesus (Mt. 11:29) and Mary (Lk. 2:19, 51).  Surely this is not without import.  In the Heart of the God-Man there is combined, according to the words of the Pope "an appeal from God and a response from man."  This is a wonderful way of describing the unique mediation of Jesus (cf. I Tim. 2:5-6) who in His divinity presents the call from God to mankind and in his humanity makes the perfect response to God in his earthly life and the sacrifice thereof.

            All of this is symbolized in his pierced Heart.  Every disposition of his human soul, every state through which he passed in his earthly life is encapsulated in his Heart.  By analogy the same can be said of the Heart of Mary.  The theology of the "states" or "mysteries" of Jesus and Mary as comprised of the interior dispositions of their souls and most perfectly represented by their Hearts is a major contribution of the "French School" of spirituality which developed under the impetus of the great Cardinal Pierre de Bérulle (1575-1629), founder of the Oratory of Jesus.  The insights of Bérulle and his disciples (de Condren, Olier, St. John Eudes) together with the doctrine of St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) set the stage for the revelations to St. Margaret Mary (1647-1690). [10]

            If his Heart synthesizes the Redemptive sacrifice, man's perfect reparation to God, I would suggest that from a human perspective it represents, even more, "an appeal from God."  In fact, this is precisely what John Paul II underscored in Vancouver when he said:  "The Heart of Jesus Christ is a great and unceasing call from God, addressed to humanity, to each human heart!" [11]  Not surprisingly, the first human heart to respond to this call was Mary's.  Her fiat at Nazareth (Lk. 1:38) made possible the formation of his human heart (and all that it represented) beneath hers, a theme which the Pope never tires of alluding to. [12]

            Mary's heart, by virtue of her Immaculate Conception, is from the first moment of her existence totally open to the call of God and from the moment of her fiat she is in communion with the "forming" Heart of Jesus.  Her heart is the first to enter into the dialogue of salvation, that union of hearts to which we are all called.  Here is how the Pope puts it:

            We can say that just as the mystery of Redemption began in the womb of the Virgin of Nazareth, so did that splendid union of the hearts of Christ and his Mother.  From the very moment when the Word was made flesh beneath the heart of Mary, there has existed, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, an enduring relationship of love between them.  The heart of the Mother has always followed the redemptive mission of her Son.  As Jesus hung on the Cross in completion of his salvific work, Simeon's prophecy foretelling the definitive alliance of the hearts of the Son and of the Mother was fulfilled:  'And a sword will pierce your own soul too' (Lk. 2:35).  Indeed the centurion's lance that pierced the side of Christ also penetrated the heart of his sorrowful Mother and sealed it in sacrificial love. [13] 

           If Jesus' Heart "is a great and unceasing call from God, addressed to humanity," then Mary's heart is the perfect response of humanity to the "call from God."  If "when we say 'Heart of Jesus Christ,' we address ourselves in faith to the whole Christological mystery:  the mystery of the God-Man," [14] then when we say "heart of Mary," we address ourselves to the whole Mariological and ecclesiological mystery.  For as the perfect human response to the "call from God," as that powerful symbol which evokes the whole mystery of Mary, especially with reference to her maternity, [15] it also summarizes all that the Church is meant to be in responding to the "call from God" which the Vatican Council refers to as "the universal call to holiness." [16] 

            Hence, when in his prophetic Angelus address of 15 September 1984, the Pope spoke of "that admirable alliance of" the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, [17] he was speaking, consciously or not, of the union of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary as paradigmatic of the synergy of divine and human, grace and nature, salvific initiative of God and cooperative response of man, redemption by the God-Man and "co-redemption" by Mary in the sense of St. Paul's words to the Colossians:  "in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church" (Col. 1:24).  The response of Mary's heart became the first answer of the Church to the "call from God" and remains its most perfect reply.  It also becomes the model for our response.

            In this sense, then, it is not surprising that on at least two occasions the Pope has intimated that consecrating the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary means effectively consecrating it to the pierced Heart of the Savior [18] for he says of this act carried out most solemnly on 13 May 1982 and 25 March 1984:

            Our act of consecration refers ultimately to the Heart of her son, for as the Mother of Christ she is wholly united to his redemptive mission.  As at the marriage feast of Cana, when she said `Do whatever he tells you', Mary directs all things to her Son, who answers our prayers and forgives our sins.  Thus by dedicating ourselves to the heart of Mary we discover a sure way to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, symbol of the merciful love of our Savior.

            The act of entrusting ourselves to the Heart of Our Lady establishes a relationship of love with her in which we dedicate to her all that we have and are.  This consecration is practised essentially by a life of grace, of purity, of prayer, of penance that is joined to the fulfillment of all the duties of a Christian, and of reparation for our sins and the sins of the world. [19]

            There is a profound inner logic to all of this which may well escape the worldly wise (cf. I Cor. 1:18-2:16).  To respond to the "call from God" symbolized in the pierced Heart of Jesus, we must belong to Mary that she might teach us the dispositions of her heart and become our tutor in the spiritual life.  As we learn from her, we take on her characteristics and become ever more perfectly that immaculate spouse "without spot or wrinkle" (Eph. 5:27) which the Church has already become in the person of Mary. [20]  It is Christ's will that we be perfected in this way.  Here is how the Pope puts it in his Marian Year Encyclical and I can think of no better way to conclude these reflections:

            This filial relationship, this self-entrusting of a child to its mother, not only has its beginning in Christ but can also be said to be definitively directed towards him. ... For every Christian, for every human being, Mary is the one who first 'believed,' and precisely with her faith as Spouse and Mother she wishes to act upon all those who entrust themselves to her as her children.  And it is well known that the more her children persevere and progress in this attitude, the nearer Mary leads them to the `unsearchable riches of Christ' (Eph.3:8). [21]


     [1] Édouard Glotin, S.J. "Jean-Paul a Paray-le-Monial ou Pourquoi le `Coeur'?" Nouvelle Revue Théologique 108 (1986):  685-714.  This is condensed from a larger study which appeared in Jésus-Christ Rédempteur de l'Homme (Venasque:  Éditions du Carmel, 1986) under the title "Le centre de l'âme et l'Icône sacrée du Coeur.  De Thérèse d'Avila à Marguerite-Marie" 103-54.

     [2] From the beginning of June to mid-September.  They may be found in the English edition of L'Osservatore Romano (henceforth ORE with the first number indicating the cumulative weekly edition number and the one after the colon indicating the page) 889:1; 890:1; 891:1; 892:1; 893:7; 895:1; 896:2; 897:2; 898:2; 901:9; 902:8; 904:1.

     [3] Angelus Address of 15 September 1985, ORE 904:1.  It should be noted that this was on the traditional date of the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, but since the date occurred on a Sunday there was no liturgical observance.  The Pope, however, did not wish to let the date pass unobserved.

     [4] ORE 941:5; 942:11; 943:12; 946:2; 947:5; 948:1; 949:11; 950:2; 95l:2; 952:2; 953:2; 960:4.

     [5] ORE 960:7.

     [6] Joachim Becker, SS.CC., "The Heart in the Language of the Bible," Faith in Christ and the Worship of Christ:  New Approaches to Devotion to Christ trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco:  Ignatius Press, 1986) 23.

     [7] 28 June 1984, from homily at Gemelli Polyclinic and Faculty of Medicine, Rome.  ORE 843:9.

     [8] Paul L. Peeters, "Dominum et Vivificantem:  The Conscience and the Heart," Communio 15 (1988) 148.

     [9] 28 June 1984, from homily at Gemelli Polyclinic, ORE 843:9.  Final emphasis my own.

     [10] On Margaret Mary's relationship to the French School, cf. Glotin, "Le 'centre de l'âme'" 110-36.

     [11] l8 September 1984, from homily at Vancouver's Abbotsford Airport, ORE 855:17.

     [12] Cf. Redemptor Hominis #22.

     [13] 8 September 1986, from Letter to Cardinal Jaime L. Sin, President of the International Symposium on the Alliance of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, Miles Immaculatae 23 (1987) 42-43.  An English translation of the proceedings of this symposium is to be published by the Sanctuary of Fatima, Portugal.

     [14] 18 September 1984, from homily at Vancouver airport, ORE 855:16.  It should be noted that John Paul's insight is in total harmony with the French School on this point.

     [15] In this regard note the words of the Sacred Congregation of Rites in the Decree establishing the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary:

"With this devotion the Church renders the honor due to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, since under the symbol of this heart she venerates with reverence the eminent and singular holiness of the Mother of God and especially her most ardent love for God and Jesus her Son and moreover her maternal compassion for all those redeemed by the divine Blood" [Decree of 4 May 1944, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 37 (1945) 50].

     [16] Lumen Gentium, chap.5 (#39-42).  This theme would be singled out for further attention in the Extraordinary Synod of 1985, cf. Relatio Finalis (Final Report) II.A.4.

     [17] Cf. footnote #3.

     [18] Cf. homily at Fatima, 13 May 1982, ORE 743:4 (#8).

     [19] 22 September 1986, from address to participants in the International Theological Symposium on the Alliance of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, ORE 959:13.

     [20] Lumen Gentium #65.

     [21] Redemptoris Mater #46. In saying that this self-entrusting has its beginning in Christ the Pope is clearly alluding to Jn. 19:26-27.  Cf. Redemptoris Mater #45.

The above paper first appeared in "Why the Heart?" Homiletic & Pastoral Review LXXXIX, No. 9 (June 1989) 18-23.

Copyright ©; Msgr Arthur Calkins 1989, 2003.

This Version: 6th May 2003


Home Page

 Msgr Calkins Home Page

 United Hearts of Jesus and Mary Home Page